It has been an odd week for my family this week with my two children ‘returning’ to their ‘new’ school. By this I mean that after 3 years away in Bangladesh, they have returned to the school they were at before they left but it feels, in many ways, like it is a new school for them.
It wasn’t just odd for my two. Staff have been a little confused about whether they are new or old. My daughter, as a year 6, was amongst the oldest in the school (actually she really IS the oldest in the school!) and so was given a new, younger student to ‘buddy’ with like others in her class. Except that she had no more of an idea what she was doing than the new kid did. Hence, at one point, they were both lost. Rather than be upset though, she just carried on until she got it sorted and they both got to where they should be going albeit a little later than everyone else.
My son has struggled a little. He is not feeling quite so certain of where he is in life having been shunted half way around the world over the last few months and all around the UK last month. He tends to be shy in new situations but then make up for it in explosive energy once he finds his feet! At the moment, he is struggling to figure out what 8 year old boys in the north of England are supposed to like and, more importantly, where they tend to vanish to at lunchtimes.
It reminds me a little of what it was like to return to LAMB in 2008 having visited and worked there a few times before over a handful of years. On the one hand, I was an old hand who knew staff and children. On the other, I had never lived there or worked for more than 2 months, so really I was a new boy. In some ways I still am.
Normally, I am rather extrovert, confident and certain of who I am and how I work in life. Sometimes though I, like my lad, am shy in new situations and struggle to know what behaviour is expected. In my experience, every work place becomes so insular that the people there tend to end up thinking that there is only one way to do things – their way. The new boy always ruffles feathers as a result. I’m rather good at ruffling feathers…
In Bangladesh this is something of a problem. A different culture and one that does not tend to insult a guest by contradicting them or opposing them to their face, this makes it difficult to know when one has committed an offence or insult. Undoubtedly I have – I think I have already guessed that – yet still after 3 years no one has told me when I get it wrong. Not even through the medium of another person.
So, like my son now, I am a little nervous about going back to Bangladesh in the new year. I rather suspect that, this second time around, I’m going to start to get an idea of what people really think of me and I doubt it will be all that wonderful. That said, like my daughter – who was completely unfazed by being in charge of another and yet completely lost – I don’t think it will stop me continuing to blunder on, doing as best I can and just sigh when I turn that wrong corner and try again. Not sure how to do things any other way to be honest.
What my son is good at doing, once he feels settled, is bouncing with energy and enthusiasm about whatever is occupying his mind at the time. I used to be like that too but, as the years toll on, it is getting harder to keep that going. I wonder whether, when I return to LAMB, I will keep on trying, keep on bouncing in front of those kids trying to make them laugh their way into quality education, trying to make them have at least one “Oh wow” moment during the week so they build up a fine catalogue of treasured memories for when they leave.
I hope so, but I know how hard it is to leave a positive impression on someone. I’ve always tried with my students in the UK to be a positive influence but I know there are students with whom I have failed. In Bangladesh, a land where I struggle to understand the culture, I fear that influence will be rather lower.